June 29, 2011
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Last summer, James Morris was an incoming freshman trying to soak in as much as he could at the Hayden Fry Football Complex. What a difference a year can make.
Fast forward to this summer and Morris is the projected starting middle linebacker when fall camp rolls around in August. Morris can tell a major difference between the two summer sessions.
“This summer has felt more like business as usual instead of last summer, when everything was pretty new and I was an unassuming freshman,” Morris said. “Now I’m trying to be a leader on defense and improving day-by-day.”
Being a leader on the Hawkeye defense might sound like a tough job for someone just entering his sophomore season, but Morris is excited and ready to take on the role.
“Being a leader is more than just yelling at guys when they screw up,” Morris said. “Coach Doyle says you have to lead yourself before you lead anyone else. I think that’s the biggest thing younger guys can do. Once you earn your stripes, then you have a little room to talk.”
Morris earned plenty of stripes as a true freshman last season, starting the final six games at middle linebacker. He ranked fourth on the team with 70 tackles, including 23 solo stops, 2.5 tackles for loss and four pass break-ups. Morris’ first action in a Hawkeye uniform was on special teams, where he took an all-out effort on to the field.
“Being a leader is more than just yelling at guys when they screw up. Coach Doyle says you have to lead yourself before you lead anyone else. I think that’s the biggest thing younger guys can do. Once you earn your stripes, then you have a little room to talk.”
Sophomore James Morris
“I was trying to be the Energizer Bunny last year,” Morris said. “What I lacked in experience I tried to make up for in effort. I feel like all the mistakes I made, I made great effort on those mistakes.”
Mistakes are bound to happen in football, especially for a true freshman. Morris is taking time this summer to fix those mistakes.
“There are very few things I said I did very well (last year) and more things that I say weren’t very good,” Morris said. “I would describe my play overall as positive, but definitely a lot of room for improvement. That’s the goal right now; improving mentally and improving on the little things you can work on when you aren’t in pads.”
Even with a year under his belt, Morris still feels the pressure of being Iowa’s middle linebacker. But it isn’t an outside source causing the pressure.
“They say there is pressure, but it’s really just the pressure you create for yourself,” Morris said. “Playing at Iowa was something I was building towards my entire life, so I did create pressure for myself. I learned to deal with it, I have my methods, and by the end of the season I felt pretty comfortable and I could play well.”
Morris grew up around the Hawkeye program and said his first moment on the field at Kinnick Stadium was something he will never forget.
“It was pretty awesome,” Morris said. “The ground was rumbling and everyone was screaming. It was a cool feeling.”
Fall Saturday’s in a ground-rumbling Kinnick Stadium may seem in the far distance in late June, but Morris is doing everything in his power to be successful when the calendar turns to football. Not only does he have a year of experience on his side, but Morris has noticeably added a few pounds to his frame.
Morris has gained “six or seven pounds” and is looking to add a few more before fall arrives. Gaining muscle and improving in all facets of the game has been much easier in his second summer with the program.
“It’s more of a routine, and I’m used to it,” Morris said. “It’s less of that exploratory feel, and I can really focus on improving at more of an aggressive rate.”
Fans could notice Morris’ improvement from his first career start against Michigan State to the Insight Bowl victory over Missouri. If Morris is improving at an even more aggressive rate during the summer, the Hawkeye defense will have a solid leader for the next three seasons.